Playing the perfect granny, Rosaleen's star turn at this year's Fleadh

Rosaleen Linehan

Rosaleen Linehan

‘She is literally the perfect granny!’ Rosaleen Linehan, the veteran Irish actor, says of her character Emer in Greyhound of a Girl, an animated film adapted from Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name by Italian filmmaker Enzo d’Alò, and co-written with David Ingham. The film will play at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh and Rosaleen hopes that audiences will like it. It’s hard to know, when making an animation, what the final product will be, she explains. Unlike stage and live-action film, which she is used to, recording audio for the film was done in isolation from the majority of her fellow cast members.

But Rosaleen is pleased with the final result, even her performance, which she says her family will be surprised by. ‘I’m rarely pleased with it,’ she says of her work, something anyone who is familiar with her career will find difficult to believe. Her track record in theatre spans sixty years, and includes roles in every giant of Irish theatre’s work, from Beckett to McDonagh.

‘I think Emer's a lovely drawing. She always looks content, and yet she's not sugary. She’s not the sweetest old granny. She’s full of gumption.’ Indeed, in true Doylian style this is a story that celebrates strong female characters and relationships between multiple generations of women. Inspired by Doyle’s own grandmother, who died when his mother was just three, the film deals with the legacy that those who have gone before us leave, as well as the cyclical nature of time.

The film centres around Mary, played by Mia O’Connor, an eleven year old girl who loves to cook and is championed by her grandmother Emer. There is a scene at the beginning of the film that Rosaleen describes, in which Mary takes part in a cooking competition. ‘The judge is mean to her,’ she explains ‘and Emer absolutely roars at him!’ She goes on to add ‘as one should, one's children and grandchildren are outside criticism!’. It would seem she is perfectly cast as Emer, the love she has for her own family obvious as we speak.

As in the film, Rosaleen believes that it is important to explore and connect to our ancestry. ‘Strangely enough, and in a serendipitous kind of way we were trying to trace my father’s family back last week,’ she tells me. ‘It’s very important that my children have a history to refer to," she says, which is why she is in the process of compiling photographs and letters belonging to her family. She mentions a cookbook that belonged to her grandmother, which her daughter has inherited. ‘She’s a terrific cook,’ Rosaleen says, ‘I’m not! I’m good on the piano though, like my mother.’

Transcending time

This is another parallel between Rosaleen’s life and the film, which features the ghost of Mary’s great grandmother, Tansey, played by Charlene McKenna. Like Rosaleen’s grandmother, Tansey gives Mary a book of old recipes, thus initiating a dialogue between the characters that transcends the boundaries of time.

When he wrote the book, Doyle imagined his then twelve year old daughter meeting the ghost of his grandmother. It was the loss of the potential relationships, between his mother and her mother, between him and his grandmother, and so on, that inspired Tansey’s character. Characters are like ghosts, Doyle has said. The book gave him a space in which to explore the possibility of speaking through this loss.

Loss is a strong theme in the film, Rosaleen’s character falling ill, meaning Mary must continue her journey alone. Is it right to expose children to such a difficult theme, Rosaleen ponders? After almost two and a half years of lockdown, grief is something many of us have become intimately acquainted with. Rosaleen concedes that loss is never easy, but it is inevitable and, in her opinion, is not something we should hide from children. The reality is that we are here for a limited time. She draws attention to her age of eighty-six. ‘This might be my last interview!’ she jokes. I tell her about my own grandmother, who threatened final Christmases for almost ten years. We laugh. There is no tragedy in dying of old age, especially if a life was rich, which Emer’s is.

The theme of loss is tempered by the enthusiasm with which Mary and Emer approach life and the activities that they both take pleasure in. ‘It is a gorgeous story’ Rosaleen says. ‘And I’ll tell you another thing that’s beautiful, the drawings of the countryside. They are like paintings.’ Place is an important aspect of the story, providing characters with another way of connecting through time, Mary visiting some of Emer’s favourite places throughout the film. D’Alò and his team spent three months visually researching Dublin and the Irish countryside in order to capture the essence of the Ireland presented in Doyle’s novel. The film’s unique animation style is the work of Peter de Sève and Thomas Von Kummant.

Like Rosaleen, Doyle was born and grew up in Dublin, and has remarked on the sensitivity with which d’Alò has approached the adaptation as a whole. Everything about the film is considered, d’Alò assembling an impressive team to bring the story to life. The film boasts a stellar cast including Rosaleen, Sharon Horgan, Brendan Gleeson and Charlene McKenna, with a brilliant debut from Mia O’Connor. The music was composed and arranged by Peter Gabriel’s guitarist David Rhodes, with collaboration from Irish musician Gemma Hayes, and is another element that Rosaleen compliments. ‘It’s just beautiful,’ she says.

Wellbeing

Both Roddy Doyle and Enzo D’Alò have been recognised for the ways in which their work promotes children’s wellbeing and encourages their creativity. Reaching for your dreams and speaking your mind, as a young person, are encouraged in the film. ‘What I think people will get from it,’ Rosaleen says, ‘is that a young person can make their mark and make their opinions felt.’ It is different from her own youth, she continues, when the attitude toward children was that they should be seen and not heard. Mary does not hide in corners, and ‘throughout she is speaking her mind, defying the adults around her’. This sometimes causes tension with her mother Scarlett, played by Sharon Horgan, a similarly strong-willed character. ‘They are independent women,’ Rosaleen concludes, and they love one another very much.

What does Rosaleen hope audiences will take away from the film? ‘That you should be very nice to your granny!’ she laughs. As a grandmother herself, she says this is important. ‘They’re all absolutely adorable. I hope they think the same about me!’ she says of her grandchildren. It is hard to imagine they could believe anything otherwise, her warmth and generosity as a performer and human radiating through the phone.

The film’s core is one of great humanity and hope. It is likely that audiences will come away with an appreciation for their grandmothers, as well as their great-grandmothers, and all of those who have gone before. Audiences can also expect to feel empowered by Mary’s determination. D’Alò’s very considered storytelling, the film’s impressive cast and the positive message it has for anybody pursuing a dream makes it a must-see at this year’s Film Fleadh.

 

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